Did You Notice? … Kyle Busch‘s problem with NASCAR’s “Boys, have at it” rule? It’s certainly not the sport itself. Thrilled with the national publicity caused by Sunday’s scuffle, they’re leaning towards no penalty for Busch. Officials are happy that a spontaneous show of emotion overshadowed a ho-hum race and breathed life into the sport.
Problem is, they don’t pay Busch’s check. That comes from Joe Gibbs Racing and, more specifically, primary sponsor M&M’s.
The candy company, which markets to young children, has a wholesome image consumed by family-friendly commercials. Since when do you see the Green M&M emerge bloodied and bitchy, complaining about what the yellow Skittles said to him Friday night? Their marketing strategy is fun, positive, G-Rated and geared toward all ages.
That’s a direct conflict with what Busch did Sunday, more WWE than wholesome Disney. It’s perfect for the branding of Monster Energy, NASCAR’s new title sponsor, which is more associated with extreme sports and more aggressive personalities. (Brother Kurt is a perfect fit.) But M&M Mars? That’s simply not a match.
“The recent actions by Kyle Busch are not consistent with the values of Mars Chocolate North America,” the company said in a statement given Monday to FOX Sports. “While we are disappointed with the situation, we hope the drivers and team members involved learn from this experience and continue to grow as professional athletes representing the sport.”
It’s one thing for a company to publicly admonish their driver. It’s another one altogether to put their money where their mouth is. Don’t forget, during the last two races of 2011 M&M’s pulled funding from JGR after Busch had a public, disturbing on-track incident with Ron Hornaday during a Truck Series race in Texas.
NASCAR, during this new Monster era, wants to pull in Millennials by showing that it’s pulled back the reins a bit. It’s clear that Busch, who’s off to a sluggish start this season and has a past history of temperamental behavior, is one of their best shots to make the national highlight reels. A tell-it-like-it-is Busch, whether he’s bashing Goodyear or trying to bash Logano’s head in, becomes can’t miss television no matter what side you’re on.
But entertainment value turns destructive for JGR if they simply can’t afford the perception of bad behavior. This team already has enough sponsor problems with the No. 20 car, trying to replace Dollar General; they can’t afford a second multi-million dollar departure, not in this NASCAR economic environment.
It’s why I expect Busch to play a little nicer from here on out. Not because he wants to; corporate America says he has to. It’s as simple as that.
Did You Notice? … Joey Logano‘s problem with NASCAR’s “Boys, have at it” rule? It’s not that Logano did anything wrong physically; he’s less likely than Busch to receive a penalty for Sunday’s fracas.
It’s that Logano didn’t physically participate.
Let’s explain. Logano has a history of being protected, not just by his crew in these incidents but by father Tom. Remember the Harvick-Logano incident way back in 2010? It was father Tom, not Joey taking the front lines in a confrontation with Harvick.
At the time, Joey was just 20 years old, a young adult still trying to make his way in NASCAR. But that perception of protection within the sport’s fan base has dogged him, carrying over to his current ride at Team Penske several years later.
That’s not to say Logano’s crew shouldn’t have jumped in to protect their driver. Of course you’re not going to sit around when a rival throws punches at your guy and you’re standing five feet away.
But the second they jumped in? The crew added to this narrative, right or wrong, that other people get to fight Joey’s battles for him. As one of the leaders of the sport’s next generation, he’s the poster child of an era in which money and branding count just as much as talent. Logano, then, can be a divisive figure amongst the fan base. This fracas further fractured just how people feel about the guy.
Consider the list of veterans Logano has tangled with through the years. You have Denny Hamlin at Fontana, a last-lap wreck that left Hamlin out for weeks. There’s Harvick, recently-retired Tony Stewart and Greg Biffle whose arguments all centered around the same theme: respect. It was that lack of respect Matt Kenseth felt Logano showed him two years ago that caused the infamous dump at Martinsville, a payback that cost Kenseth dearly and is one of the biggest controversies the sport has dealt with in the Chase era.
So while Logano may emerge unscathed, without a physical scratch you wonder if the same is true for his garage reputation. Does he even want to change it? Teammate Brad Keselowski is a role model for being your own man, doing what you think is right and letting the haters, well, hate.
Busch is such a controversial figure in his own right that maybe Logano will think it doesn’t matter. But ruffling so many feathers throughout so many years heightens the risk to him on the racetrack going forward.
Did You Notice? … Quick hits before taking off…
- It’s been a long time since the 5/24 shop at Hendrick Motorsports appears to be light years ahead of the 48/88. Three races in, Jimmie Johnson and Dale Earnhardt Jr. have no top-10 finishes while Kasey Kahne and Chase Elliott have four. Kahne in particular looks like he’s found his groove after a slump that’s extended across several years.
- Elliott and Kyle Larson have spent the first three races oh, so close. As we may have seen with Elliott a few weeks ago, how much will “not getting over the hump” get to them?
- Three races, three wrecks for rookie Corey Lajoie with BK Racing. It’s hard to remember a rougher start for a rookie.
- Kevin Harvick and Phoenix. Three straight victories in the spring race. With more laps led this year than anyone else (352), why wouldn’t it be four for four this weekend? And will fans who know that dominance, and understand it, even bother to tune in with the NCAA Tournament as stiff competition?